Beyond the Ocean's Depths (Not an Average Shifter Romance)

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Chapter 22: Kyle and a Look at Torin's History

TOBIE

While Kyle’s nose was a normal size this morning, his eye still looked a bit bruised, and I had to stop myself from staring, knowing that my daughter gave him that shiner.

Kyle’s dad was the one who brought him, and I shook his hand as he awkwardly introduced himself. I told Kyle he could go on and that Chuy was waiting for him with girls down the hall in the first classroom on the left. Anne and Rainie had, of course, come in earlier with me and Rhonda to open the center.

“Ma’am, I just wanted to personally apologize for my son’s behavior,” Mr. Hudson said looking me in the eye. “I take full responsibility. My mouth was what he had been listening to, and what I’d said when I was laid off... Well, it was wrong and I’m sorry.”

I understood where he was coming from and I felt bad for him. Obviously, the rehab wasn’t necessarily in a position to rehire back all the people who had gotten laid off from the old aquarium, and a part of me felt guilty for having a job there when he didn’t. Yet, it wasn’t the same business that it used to be.

Instead I just smiled and tried to thoughtfully tell him that I understood and that I had no ill will towards him or his son, and that I hoped things would be better for him soon. This relaxed him a bit, and he told me that he’d in fact just gotten a job at the paper mill in the next town over, and the pay was going to be better than the job he had here anyways.

Whew! Hard feelings averted there!

He left and I headed down to the classroom to help start off the internship activities for the day. As soon as I entered the room, I could tell that the kids weren’t going to be as amenable with each other. Kyle was off to the side, halfway paying attention to Chuy, and the girls were trying to pay attention while eyeing Kyle.

This wasn’t going to work, and if the adults could get past their differences, there was no reason to have a feud between the kids.

“Alright, listen up!” I interrupted Chuy who was obviously nervous due to the tension hanging in the air. “We’re going to start over. All three of you know why you’re here, and at this point I don’t care whose fault it was and who did what. That’s done and over with. Fighting isn’t how we solve problems, and while I don’t expect you all to be best buddies in the end (I was referring to the girls versus Kyle), I expect you to work together with respect for one another. You will talk to each other respectfully and if you have a problem you will handle it respectfully. No bad-mouthing each other and no hitting.”

I looked at all three of them with my “I mean it” stare, and Kyle looked on wide-eyed, not expecting me to give my own daughter and her friend the third degree alongside of him. I did mean it, flesh and blood or not, I wanted them all to learn how to treat others right and I wasn’t going to tolerate dumb drama.

“Is that clear?” I sternly asked all three. Anne and Rainie swallowed heavily, surprised as much as Kyle was, and all three nodded their heads in unison.

“Good. Now, Chuy has been working with the animals here at the rehab for several months and I want you to listen carefully to everything he tells you. While feeding and taking care of the animals can be lots of fun, it can be very dangerous, for the animal and for you, if you’re not watching what you’re doing. You don’t want to feed the animals something bad, and you don’t want to fall into the tanks. I don’t want anyone - people or animals - hurt on my watch, okay?”

Again, the trio nodded. My soap box speech over, I softened and handed them back over into Chuy’s very capable hands while I watched from the back of the room as he gave them a quick and dirty safety briefing and an idea of what they would be doing today and for the rest of the week. And while the girls stayed separate from Kyle, I could see a tiny bit of the tension between them dissolve. Maybe we’d pull this off yet!

On the way home, I grilled Anne on how things went between the three of them, and she honestly reported that Kyle had pretty much kept to himself and they’d left him alone as well. “It was fun though, Mom,” she commented. “I think all three of us, including Kyle, are excited to go back tomorrow.”

I smiled back at her, “Thanks sweetheart.”

}<<(((}> * <{)))>>{

TORIN

I got home right after Mom and Rainie finished supper, but since my plate was still warm in the oven, I washed up quick and sat down to eat, asking Rainie to join me so I could hear about her day. I had so many questions and concerns running through my mind.

“Did that boy show up?”

“Yeah, Kyle. He was there. His dad brought him.”

“And how’d that go?”

“Not too bad actually! Well, we didn’t really talk to him much, and he kinda kept to himself and left me and Anne alone.”

“That’s good. Don’t let him start up anything, okay?”

“No, I won’t. But I don’t think that’s going to be a problem anyways. Tobie seriously laid it on the line first thing this morning.”

So, like Mom, Rainie was on a first name basis - nickname basis, at that - with October Davis, huh? “Interesting,” I thought.

“What do you mean?” I asked, my attention back on what Rainie had said about “Tobie” laying it on the line.

“Well yesterday, she told me and Anne by ourselves why she thought Kyle did what he did, and then this morning she told all three of us that she didn’t want us disrespecting anyone and that she wasn’t going to tolerate it from any of us.”

“Really?” I was a bit surprised. I guess I hadn’t really thought about how she would handle being in charge of this little community service thing, but it sounded like she was taking it very seriously. Okay, I was a bit impressed.

“Yeah, I kinda thought she might take it easy on us girls, Anne especially. But she treated her like she was just another kid. Said we were all there because we’d gotten into trouble for fighting and there wasn’t going to be any fighting there. Then she said that we needed to be safe because we didn’t wanna hurt any of the animals or get hurt ourselves.”

Okay. I was impressed now, “So what did she have you guys do?”

Rainie’s eyes lit up as she talked about learning some dolphin nutrition (much of which she already knew, of course) and that they were introduced properly (for humans) to Delilah, the older female. I knew Delilah, from years ago, through Sandy and her dolphin, Jayde, though Rainie didn’t know it.

“Chuy, the one assistant guy, he told us all about her and showed us how they do their daily checkups to make sure she’s doing okay. I guess she’s had a respiratory infection, and today was her last day on her antibiotic. So, we got to watch how he put the medicine in a fish and gave it to her, making sure she ate the whole thing.”

Alright, another point for Team Davis, I thought. Actually treating animals for infections, though my mind still wandered back to the past - things that only Mom and I knew.

“Then there’s this seal. Salvador is his name. He’s old, too, and I guess none of the zoos wanted to take him when the aquarium closed because he’s so old. Well anyways, he has some kind of eating disorder and whenever anyone goes in his living area, they have to make sure they don’t take anything that he could grab, because he might eat it! Chuy said that he tried to eat a squeaky toy last week and puked all over the - what’s it called... Oh, infirmary! He told us all about how Tobie had to save Salvador from choking, and got it unstuck from down in his throat. She basically saved his life!”

Damn, saving Salvador the Seal - the veterinarian was starting to look more like a saint in my daughter’s eyes as the day progressed it seemed. How many points was that now; three, four?

As Rainie wound down her tale of the day’s events, we both quieted, sitting in a comfortable silence for a moment. Finally, Rainie spoke again - this time low and thoughtful, “Dad, are you okay?”

This surprised me, and I sighed, eyeing my maturing daughter contemplatively. “Yeah.”

“Okay. I just... Well, I know you have a lot going on, and I just wanted to say that it’s okay. You don’t have to worry about me. Grandma keeps an eye on me, and I’m doing just fine.”

I smirked at her, wondering where this was coming from. “When’d you get to be a psychiatrist?” I teased.

She shrugged, smiling back at me. Then getting up and pushing her chair in, she came over and gave me a good squeeze, which I returned in full.

“Hey, I’ve got a question,” and she nodded, waiting for me to continue. “You said Anne’s mom told you both yesterday why Kyle did what he did. What was her reasoning?”

She looked at me thoughtfully, “Well, she explained that Kyle’s dad was upset when he lost his job and was scared that he wouldn’t be able to make enough money for his family. So, he said some stuff that he didn’t really mean, because that’s what people do when they’re scared. And Kyle overheard him and didn’t know that his dad didn’t really hate them for moving here and didn’t really think that she stole his job.”

I nodded, as I probably couldn’t have said it better. Rainie hugged me again, then said, “I’ve got to go do some studying. Chuy gave us a paper with what foods each of the animals get, and how much, and when to feed them, and I want to see how much of it I can memorize before tomorrow! Love you!”

“I love you, too, Raindrop!”

I sat there at the table alone, picking at the last of my food while memories flooded my mind. I hadn’t thought about Delilah in a long time, having tried to push away painful memories of Sandy.

Sandy, my beautiful wife! Rainie took after her in many ways.
Sandy’s math skills were atrocious, so she never pursued anything as complicated as veterinary medicine or biology as a career, but made a wonderfully caring social worker, as far as marine mammals went. The closest thing to that in human careers was animal activist, and that’s what she called herself.

It was funny because she was so quiet and shy, no one ever suspected her to be so intent on animal rights. When it boiled down to it though, she was no amateur when it came to marine mammal laws and I kept telling her she should have went into law. But, she didn’t want to go back to school, especially when we finally had Rainie.

Her other talent had been a curious ability to astutely commune with non-shifter dolphins better than most dolphin-shifters could while in human form. While we all can sense what the animals are feeling, and pick up on thoughts and ideas if we tune-in or meditate correctly, she could mentally hear them without even trying. It were as if she had an extra-sensory perception when it came to pure-dolphins. She’d always said she’d inherited it from her grandmother on her dad’s side, and I often wonder if Rainie would develop it once her shifting begins.

I guess that’s what made Sandy such a natural animal activist. Like the fictional Doctor Doolittle, she could literally talk to the animals - well, only dolphins. But that meant that Delilah, Dan, and the other dolphins who used to live at the aquarium could tell her all the dirty secrets that Michael Carter, the previous aquarium owner, and his employees held. And those secrets were well beyond dirty! Circuses and side-show places like the Navarro Beach Aquarium and Dolphin Extravaganza we’re already against everything the entire dolphin-shifter community stood for, just on the basis of their general lack of ethics and cruel methods used to make the animals perform. But Delilah, who’d been Sandy and Jayde’s closest friend at the aquarium, appraised Sandy of all the inhumane and illegal doings that Carter employed his veterinarian to do. This included the illegal trading and selling of live animals, and even worse, the capture of wild dolphins. If they proved to be crowd-pleasers, they stayed on as acts in the shows, until they lost their luster and were butchered for their organs, which easily sold on the black market for big dollars. The more Sandy found out, the more intent she became to close the operation down.

At first I didn’t want her involved. I worked in law enforcement and knew more about the seedy world of the black market than I wanted to, and I had no desire for Sandy to get anywhere near that kind of world. But, this was a serious cause and Sandy wasn’t going to give it up. She’d tried to report the aquarium to the FBI and other agencies involved with illegal animal trading, but Carter was too smart and had apparently evaded the law for quite some time, so was good at what he did.

So, as the only dolphin-shifter in law enforcement in the county, Sandy and I decided that together we might be able to gather enough information to really take them down. None of the employees were shifters (of course), so were none the wiser. She’d dig up information and I would catalog it. For a long time, Sandy would go to the aquarium as a visitor, taking in shows and hanging out, pretending she was just another pure-human with an immense interest in sea life, while she was really getting all the information she could out of the dolphins. Eventually, a couple of trainers noticed that she was a regular and seemed to have a way with the dolphins, and offered her part-time work, helping to feed the animals. She took them up on the offer, providing her with inside access to get the evidence we needed. But we soon learned that it was more difficult than we thought to get evidence that pure-humans would enact on. Our witnesses were dolphins, and that wouldn’t cut it in the courts.

That’s when she and Jayde started to get sick, and before long our family dolphin-shifting doctor discovered that cancerous tumors had severely invaded the base of their neck, lodging in the spinal column. There wasn’t a lot we could do, the doctor informed us, as the cancer was already so widespread.

As Sandy and Jayde’s bones were the same, morphing with the shifting process, the tumors began to severely impact their ability to shift between one another. We quickly gave up our undercover investigation and focused on more important things. Sandy and Jayde found themselves in pain much of the time with surgeries, then radiation and chemotherapy treatments in an effort to at least halt the growths, and spending quality time together as a family became our priority.

Eventually, the two of them found that it was less painful when Jayde was in form, so Sandy spent more and more time within Jayde as the cancer progressed. But this weren’t enough for the fates, and one had to wonder if Michael Carter had some connection with divinely evil forces who subconsciously told him that Jayde and Sandy were out for his neck.

On my days off work, Onyx would often accompany Jayde on small trips around the Navarro Beach waters, for she was determined to make the most it before she wasn’t able to go out anymore. One day, a fishing boat appeared and Jayde, too slow to make an escape, found herself ensnared in a net that belonged to none other than the Navarro Beach Aquarium and Dolphin Extravaganza. To my own and Onyx’s horror, both of our soul mates had been captured and taken back to the very aquarium we all abhorred!

I embarked upon my own undercover work, buddying up to the trainer who was in charge of Jayde (and Sandy), and visiting the love of my life who, without medical treatment, was now so sick that shifting back into human form was impossible. It was only a matter of weeks before the aquarium veterinarian discovered the cancer in Jayde’s spine, and determined that she was dying.

When I arrived at the aquarium the following day, Jayde was nowhere to be found. My ‘friend,’ the trainer, trusting me and being too stupid to realize that I was a cop, told me in confidence that she was sick and had been put down. It took me four years and continuously arming myself with recording equipment to get him to tell me about the aquarium’s profitable side-business, disclosing the fact that he’d assisted in the autopsy of Onyx’s beloved (and mine within her), with the vet extracting the money-making organs. The trainer had fed the other aquarium animals what they could of her remains and discarded the ‘unusable’ parts in the Gulf of Mexico. If it weren’t for the importance of Sandy’s investigation, forcing me to focus on the bigger picture, I would have easily broken the trainer’s neck that day, giving him a similar fate to that of my wife.

I sighed, I wasn’t hungry anymore. My dark thoughts were interrupted by Mom banging something in the kitchen and I refocused on the baby girl Sandy left behind upstairs. No, this was too horrific for Rainie to be told just yet. She’d just been seven when her mother was murdered, and had had a difficult enough time just knowing her mother and Jayde had been terminally ill, believing that they’d died from the cancer, and not something much, much worse. But I knew, someday, I would have to tell her. And that was a day I was dreading more than anything.

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